'Toon Review - Avengers Confidential: Black Widow/Punisher
Sigh. As the theme of this website is to offer a more positive spin on nerdish things, well, that’s gonna make this review a bit tough. So maybe the theme of this website should be changed to “I won’t be quite as a complainy nerd as most other complainy nerds on the internet.” That should help me squeak by for what follows.
Okay, disclaimer out of the way, let’s get into a touch of history (and yes, I AM stalling in the hopes of finding something nice to say about this!). Marvel animation has never really been…well, let’s just say there’s always been a sizeable gap between them and their Distinguished Competition. A perfect example being in the 90’s, DC released the classic Batman: The Animated Series and Marvel released X-Men, both on Fox Kids. In fact, one right after the other initially as they made up the Fox Kids Action Block (or whatever they called it then). However, while Batman: TAS is widely regarded as a classic, not just by those that grew up at the time but anyone with an interest in animation, X-Men is still fondly remembered by those that grew up with it but overall the animation is very standard at best. Both series served as springboards into their particular universes. Batman begot Superman, then Batman Beyond, then finally Justice League and Justice League Unlimited (all of them full series…and heck, throw in Static Shock and the Zeta Project in there too if you want, as the ties exist). X-Men begot Spider-Man, itself a fairly long running cartoon for Fox, then a series of short-lived one to two season shows; Iron Man, Fantastic Four, Silver Surfer and the widely regarded as abysmal Spider-Man Unlimited and Avengers: United they Stand. As the new millennium dawned, and the years that followed, it was clear that when it came to converting comics to animation, DC was far and above its competition. As we get into the mid to late 2000’s, though, we have another interesting parallel develop. Both companies decided to bring PG-13 animated features to the Direct-to-Video market. Marvel went first with Ultimate Avengers in 2006, followed quickly by Ultimate Avengers 2 later that same year before DC put forth their first entry, Superman: Doomsday in 2007 (check out my review! And yes, I intend to work my way through both companies’ DTV films and post them…crap I’ve got a lot to do!). And even in that 2007 time frame, Marvel had released two more…Iron Man and Doctor Strange. So, Marvel had quantity on their side…and quality. Obviously, I’ll have to post reviews to better illustrate my point, but in a nut-shell, the quality of these first 4 entries had me looking forward to each additional release. To wrap this history lesson up, as we broke past 2010, it looked like that not only was Marvel dominating the big screen, but they’d finally started catching up to DC in the animation game as well.
If only this had remained true. You see, while Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes was every bit as fantastic as DC’s Justice League cartoon, it was unceremoniously pushed to the side for something that more mimicked the style of the smash live-action movie. While I don’t feel qualified to say anything more about the recent Avengers Assemble cartoon, the fact that it didn’t hold my interest past its first few episodes should say something (as DVD releases come forward, though, I may change that opinion). Then there was the announcement that Marvel was teaming with Japanese animation company MadHouse for DTVs. Let me tell you…that sent a little nerd’s heart all a-twitter! And watching the Iron Man and X-Men series that they’d produced (still haven’t gotten around to watching Blade and Wolverine), I was definitely looking forward to what was coming. Avengers Confidential: Black Widow/Punisher is the second feature-length effort from this team and…sigh. I hit that mark every time I think about forming words to review this…sigh. I do have to say though, the first 5 to 10 minutes of this make a VERY strong argument for how AWESOME a Punisher anime series would be. Seriously, Marvel and MadHouse...get to work on this. However, things go downhill from there rather fast. As I made my way through it, by about the 20 minute mark I immediately came up with a simple, two word review for the film: beautiful cliché. Why didn’t I start with that and save you some time? Meh…what can I say, I like the sound of my own voice. Still, the story here doesn’t leave out a single trope: partners that don’t like/trust each other forced to work together, they fight, insist on doing things their own way, big failure, betrayal, young gadget genius, mind-control, “I did this for you/wanted to be worthy of your love”, heroic sacrifice and so on and so on. Not a single hero team-up beat is missed. Now, as the old saying is that there are only 6 stories in the world (okay, I forget the actual number, I think it was 6, but the point is that material is limited), so repetition of themes and such can be overcome if it’s done in a fresh or new way. Not so much here. I found it all to be TERRIBLY predictable. And, when my mind gets bored, it starts rewriting the movie. I’m not saying I could do better. There’s a reason that screenwriters are screenwriters and I’m just a guy that posts reviews in his spare time in this dark little corner of the internet. Your mileage may vary on this, but the plot and writing are certainly not a strong suit here.
The visuals, however, well…it’s MadHouse, OF COURSE it looks awesome! The only minor flaw is the mass battle at the end, but I felt I had to give ‘em a pass on that. Trying to animate that many figures fighting is impossible for hand animation and, I’d imagine, still tricky for a computer (on an animated DTV budget). The character design is great. Hell, I’ll rewatch this just for Black Widow alone, to borrow a phrase from TV and internet legend Joe Bob Briggs, “if you know what I mean and I think you do”.
So in the final analysis, this movie might serve to do to some young Avengers fans that old anime did for me…help kick start that whole puberty thing. And while it certainly looks fantastic, well…there’s just not much there when it comes to story and plot. I wish it were otherwise. I really wanted to like this. As it stands, it’s worth a rental if you’re a die-hard anime or Marvel/Avengers fan, but I cannot in clean conscience recommend that anyone spend money on this.